Bureau of Customs ‘system’ faults bared

THE Special Committee created last February by Bureau of Customs (BoC) Commissioner Rey Leonardo ‘Jagger’ Guerrero to probe the illegal release at the Informal Entry Division, Port of Manila of 641 containers--and their subsequent “disappearance” -- was made possible because of “faults” in the bureau’s ‘electronic-to-mobile’ (E2M) goods’ log-in system.

According to the report submitted to Guerrero last June 3, of the nine “data fields” to be filled up by a customs examiner to “manually write off” the bill of lading of a shipment so it can be released from customs custody, only one field, the ‘transit shed (nature) code’ is “valid” in the E2M system.

This means any unscrupulous person authorized to access the system can enter fake entries in field of the purported consignee, among others. With a fake consignee, tracing where the cargo ultimately ended up, becomes difficult, if not, impossible.

“Clarificatory testing by the MISTG (Management Information System Technology Group), revealed the manual discharge module accepts any arbitrary alphanumeric number that may be encoded by the examiner into the ‘mandatory fields.’ Only the transit shed (nature) code is required as a valid entry,” part of the report bared.

A source familiar with the BOC system noted that despite this, the shed/nature code, should have been enough to “alert any responsible official” that the released shipments are not for “transit” but for “consumption.”

A shipment under “transit” is coded ‘24’ in the shed/nature code field and need not pay any duties and taxes at the POM, the source explained.

On the other hand, a “consumption” shipment is tagged ’23,’ which means a customs entry had to be filed so that duties and taxes can be collected by the bureau.

The source averred that all the 641 containers were tagged ‘23’ (for consumption/filing of customs entry) in their bill of ladings but were still allowed for release without payment of a single centavo to the government.

The source added that aside from the defects in the data field entries, it is “peculiar” for the E2M to allow those working at the IED to ‘view” in their terminal all ‘Code 23’ shipments while those assigned at the Formal Entry Division (FED) can only view the shipments as Code 23 once a consumption entry has been filed to secure their release.

“This enables them (IED) to know in advance practically all incoming shipments,” the source added.

The source also disputed claim of deputy collector for assessment, Florante Ricarte, that he was kept in the dark about the anomaly happening at the IED-POM under his watch.

“He (Ricarte) has access to both the FED and the IED systems as these are under his supervision and responsibilities. To claim he does not know what is going on in the whole six months this has been happening because he ‘never’ received any report about it is a big lie.”

In a talk with this writer, Ricarte expressed belief he would be exonerated after being charged by Guerrero for “neglect of duty” as he allegedly never received any report pertaining to the illegal releases of the containers.

The same source added Atty. Erastus Sandino ‘Dino’ Austria, cannot evade responsibility for the anomaly. “He has access to all the systems and has the authority to suspend or authorize the use of (computer) passwords.

“If he is really diligent, he would have known immediately that ‘something was wrong’ as he also daily receives a report of all pending, paid and released containers.”
The source added that in the case of manual releases thru the facilities of the IED, this would also need the approval of the district collector.

Austria was the POM district collector at the time of the incident that happened between March 2018 to August 2018. He told this writer that “ultimately,” his fate—and the possible sanctions against him—is not in the hands of Guerrero but with Pres. Duterte, who appointed him to the BOC in 2017.

The committee has recommended that Austria’s fate, being a presidential appointee, should be left for the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) to decide. Austria was cited for “neglect of duty” and “command responsibility.”

The PACC was created by the Chief Executive in 2017 to probe allegations of corruption against all his appointees.

To be continued